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DR. JOHN E. UPLEDGER (1932 - )
Dr. UpledgerDr Upledger’s contribution is distinguished by his ability to research intricate details and yet simultaneously simplify techniques to a level which could be learned by members of the public. His emphasis is on the function of connective tissues called fascia in all its forms and using light touch to assist and follow the body into its self regulating mechanisms.

Dr Upledger ‘discovered‘ the craniosacral system when he was assisting at an operation to remove a calcified plaque from the membrane that surrounds the spinal cord of one of his patients. At the time he was a doctor of osteopathy. His task was to hold the spinal cord still with two pairs of forceps while the surgeon scraped away the plaque. However, to his increasing embarrassment and in spite of his best efforts the spinal cord kept moving. The slightest slip by the surgeon could end up with the patient being paralysed from the neck down. The membrane kept moving in a regular cyclical motion throughout the procedure. Nobody could explain the motion and so became very curious. He could find no reference to it in any of the standard text books.

He was fascinated by the phenomenon, and in his own words, “did not have long to wait” before he discovered a line of enquiry. In 1968 John attended a course at The Cranial Academy, which was being taught by Dr Harold Magoun. He learned to feel the ‘motion’ of the cranial bones and the sacrum through the connection of the dural membranes. He realized that this was the movement he had first encountered when he was trying to hold the spinal cord steady for the surgeon. Attending the Cranial Academy changed the course of his life. At that time he had contact with Anne Wales and Harold Magoun, who were taught by Sutherland. They, along with others, taught John to fine tune his palpation skills and to trust what his hands were telling him.

From 1975 – 1983 John was a research fellow at the Faculty of Osteopathic Medicine at Michigan State University. In addition to being a doctor of osteopathy he was also a professor of biomechanics. He was asked by MSU to head a team to “prove or disprove that the cranial bones were capable of movement in adults”. There was still controversy about cranial bone movement in the medical community.

His research team consisted of Anatomists, Physiologists, Biophysicists and Bioengineers. The result of their work largely confirmed what Sutherland had discovered by experimenting on himself, and through his clinical experience: the cranial bones, the membranes attaching to them, the membranes surrounding the spinal cord, and the sacrum, together with the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) make up a moving body system now known as the craniosacral system.

By correcting restrictions in this system, many poorly understood conditions of the brain and spinal cord could be successfully treated. This team were the first to formally put forward a model to describe a possible mechanism of the craniosacral system. This was a semi-closed pressure static hydraulic system which mediated the production and circulation of CSF.

While at MSU, and in private practice John continued to develop new ways to use the craniosacral system to solve and improve health problems that did not respond to conventional methodologies. His techniques became soft tissue-oriented, fluid-oriented, membrane-oriented, cellular orientated and energy-oriented, which resonated with quantum physics.

One of his most important research projects was with children who were diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). He found that in examining their cranial membranes that they were, without exception, much tighter than in children without autism. He developed techniques to relax the membranes which would bring about a change in the typical self-destructive behaviour and improve emotional responses from the client group. His study found that the techniques were beneficial and that the more severe behaviours - including head banging, thumb sucking, toe walking and self-mutilation - were either alleviated or diminished in his group of patients.

Upledger wanted families of children with more severe forms of ASD to be able to treat their children on a daily basis by themselves and with confidence in doing good things for the child. He instigated a program whereby he taught carers simple but powerful techniques which helped release tension in the dural membranes. In this way he founded craniosacral therapy, making it available to all those who wished to apply it with an open heart and good intention.

This gave rise to the development of the “10 step protocol” course for parents to help their children and provided the bridge to classes for non-medical trainees. Dr. John UpledgerRealising the value of these techniques, he opened up the training to people from non-medical backgrounds and went on to make it available as an adjunct therapy to other healing modalities.

Upledger also came to understand that emotional issues could be ‘stored away’ or recorded in the soft tissue of the body, bringing about physical complaints and symptoms. Such stored emotions were negative, or destructive, and could originate from any combination of physical, psychological, or emotional trauma from any source whatsoever. He developed a system for locating and releasing these impediments to healing. He called this Somato-Emotional Release.

Although a tenured professor at Michigan State University, Upledger left to set up a teaching foundation, The Upledger Institute, specifically to train non-medical health professionals in “CranioSacral Therapy”, a term he coined to differentiate it from what was previously taught to only osteopaths. His techniques are based on the Hippocratic premise “First do no harm”.

He has written and lectured extensively on craniosacral therapy, making it accessible to the general public. He has a gift for making complicated subjects easy to understand. Now well into his seventies and retired from active teaching in 2008, he still maintains an interest in research to improve and extend the scope of his life’s work. To date some 100,000 individuals world-wide have received training from The Upledger Institute. He has written many books on CST, including both textbooks and lighter, introductory books for the general reader.

The Future

Since Upledger first coined the term, craniosacral therapy (CST) has broadened and diversified over recent decades into a number of distinct styles that all share a common heritage, but differ in how the work is applied in clinical practice. Now CST is truly on its way to becoming a new health technology and has effectively demonstrated its usefulness to the human race as a tool for good health.

There are now several different approaches to the philosophy of CST, for example, Upledger CST, Franklyn Sills Biodynamic CST, which has further developed into Process CST, Hugh Milne’s Visionary Craniosacral work, and many others have developed schools of philosophy and published books on the subject. There are many independent schools, which align with one approach or another or claim synthesis across the spectrum of teachings. However, they are all based on a common approach: listening to the client’s body and using very subtle techniques to effect profound change.

Craniosacral Therapy is standing on a very important threshold – literally in its infancy – of developing the body’s self-healing properties, and the many schools with differing approaches reflect this current stage of CST in its development. Cranial osteopathy has similarly been moving away from purely mechanistic approaches to the body and have contributed their own perspective on CST. Their world has had many modern thinkers, who have adapted their technique to reflect Sutherland’s later work and contributed greatly to the softer craniosacral therapeutic approach. The list below reflects contributions arising out of the work of Still and Sutherland.

We believe a time is coming when the general public will seek to be treated by the latest technology – a pair of sensitive hands.
Schools arising from Still and Sutherland’s work

John Upledger Upledger Craniosacral “Your Inner Physician and You”
Hugh Milne Visionary Craniosacral work “The Heart of Listening”
Franklyn Sills Biodynamic CST “Craniosacral Biodynamics”.
Cathy Pliscof Neurovascular Insitute “The Sacred Brain”
Randolf Stone Polarity Therapy “Polarity Therapy”
James Jealous Biobasics series audio lectures
Rollin E. Becker, author of “Life in Motion” and “The Stillness of Life”,
Robert Fulford, author of “Touch of Life”
Viola M. Frymann, “Collected Writings” and “Beryl E. Arbuckle, “Collected Writings”. Both are highly recommended for practitioners because of their extensive work with children.
Anne L. Wales, Chester Handy, Howard and Rebecca Lippincott, all added to the wealth of information about the field and were very dynamic in their teachings and conviction concerning the effectiveness of cranial work.
Many other influential osteopaths trained in W G Sutherland's work include Louis Hasbrouck, Alan Becker, Herbert C. Miller, and Edna Lay.